Even those who couldn’t build their way out of a box of Lincoln Logs will follow the easily-digestible architectural info.
Monday Jul 31, 2006. By Julia Steinberger
If the thoughts normally associated with touring?noisy groups, guides walking backward, straying kids, aching legs?have you rationalizing an afternoon at the hotel pool, this cushy setup is the perfect solution. Hop on a boat and cruise down the Chicago River, taking in the most famous sights the Loop offers while enjoying a crash-course in modern architecture and city history.
The architectural river cruise is a staple of Parents’ Weekends and business conventions, so the average age is 40-plus and the vibe is relaxed and respectful. Sightseers board the double-decker boat from the Navy Pier riverbank in groups that average 50-100. With plenty of seating for everyone on the open-air top deck, you don’t have to camp in line or scramble for a seat, but you can head downstairs if you’d prefer to stay out of the elements.
Even those who couldn’t build their way out of a box of Lincoln Logs will likely follow the tour’s easily-digestible architectural info, liberally sprinkled with juicy tidbits about Chicago’s business, government and social history. A good (and affordable) choice for locals and tourists alike, the river cruise will open your eyes to a new level of appreciation for the city, and plop you back on shore inspired to head downtown and check out the sites up close.
Sign me up: The 60-minute tour costs $24 for adults ($22 on weekdays), $21 for seniors and $12 for kids under 12. Discounts are available for groups of 20 or more, and the tour is dog-friendly. Tours runs daily mid-April thru mid-October, and weekends only October 16-November 30, weather permitting. During the busiest season, boats leave every 30 minutes between 10 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Sites you’ll see: More than 40 landmarks of modern American architecture, including the first Skeleton building, the tallest skyscrapers and the world’s largest building in square feet (that’s Merchandise Mart, which has its own zip code). You’ll even pass by some empty lots with sky-high aspirations…and get the skinny on what’s in the works for landmarks of the future. Bring your camera: unless you live in Oprah’s penthouse, you’re unlikely to get skyline views this clear anywhere else.
Golden nugget: You’ll learn how Al Capone and his cronies lifted contraband-filled cars up to their hangout in the Stratosphere Club, located in the cupola of 35 E. Wacker Drive.
Who’s da guide: The tour company employs a fleet of guides during summer, and the website assures that each one is “a knowledgeable professional in the architecture field.” Although our twentysomething guide was certainly well-prepared, she looked suspiciously like a grad student. Not that it was a bad thing?she was personable and upbeat, and had her spiel down pat. I liked that the central management lets guides spike the script with their own personality; our sightseeing was punctuated with sassy critiques of Chicago’s sketchball government.
Fuel your tank: Each cruise boat stocks a bar with sodas, bottled water and snacks, though there’s nothing to really make a meal of. The Pier offers plenty of family-friendly restaurants and carnival fare, but for something truly delish walk a few blocks west on Illinois to the cafe at gourmet grocer Fox & Obel, where you can order yourself one of the city’s best omelets, stuffed with top-notch cheese and flanked with golden spuds.
Snooze-fest or eye-opener: This tour is a winner with everyone. It’s relaxing, not too long and packed with interesting factoids you can use to make excellent cocktail conversation for years. And it offers an escape option not common to most tours: If you do get bored with the subject matter, simply sit back and enjoy the skyline views as you float down the river.
Even locals will learn: The origin of the name Chicago was “Chicagou,” a Native American word meaning “smelly onion patch.”
Buy tickets online at http://www.shorelinesightseeing.com or over the phone at (312) 222-9328.